By: Courtney Murphy
Parker White and I were Page Pirates at the same time, just a year removed (and of course, just a few short years ago). During my senior year, we were actually in the same Journalism class. I distinctly remember thinking that she was a very kind and caring person. She possessed the quality of mature thoughtfulness that is somewhat unique in a high schooler. My intuition underestimated Parker’s strong character.
I did not see Parker for many years after I graduated from Page. We both moved back to Greensboro several (ahem) years after graduation, around the same time, but our paths don’t frequently cross until summer when the pool is open. If you’ve tried to talk with another parent at the pool while your children are in tow, you can understand how our conversations are frequently broken up by trips to the snack bar, bathroom breaks, catching jumping children and shouts of “NO RUNNING!”. However, my respect for her has continued to grow and I was honored to get the chance to actually have an uninterrupted conversation with her about BackPack Beginnings, the recipient of Kirkwood 5K’s fundraising. I knew about their mission, but I was very interested in their story.
Parker’s passion for helping children was truly born at the same time that her first child came into the world. As all mothers do, she felt an overwhelming sense of love and responsibility towards this tiny little person who depended on her for everything and she graciously acknowledged how lucky she was to have the emotional and financial support to nurture her tiniest family member. But Parker went a step further. She realized that not everyone was as lucky as she was. She felt a very strong urge to help children whose parents didn’t have the resources that were available to her. She sat on the urge while she continued to transition from a staffer at the United States Senate to a full time mom (I didn’t ask Parker this question, but I am willing to bet that a baby is a tougher boss than even a US Senator).
When her family decided to pack it up and leave the nation’s capital to move back to Greensboro, the calling became even more intense. She had heard about backpack programs in DC and decided to do some digging to try to find a similar program in Greensboro. Her search came up rather empty. Not to be discouraged, Parker called the school system in January 2010 to see what she could do to help children who may not be getting the nourishment they needed to grow and learn. She hooked up with Wiley Elementary. She planned to work one day a week and deliver some food to put into backpacks at Wiley with one simple program.
It took less than 6 months before people were asking Parker for a logo. She had more volunteers and money than she knew what to do with. A fantastic problem for a non-profit. The Greensboro Community Foundation offered their resources for the first three years to determine sustainability. This was extremely beneficial as Parker did not have the niche experience of running a non-profit that was quickly growing into a very large, recognizable philanthropy in Greensboro.
In 2014, Parker’s small independent endeavor now has four different programs (comfort backpacks, food pantry, clothing pantry and the original backpack program) and serves 2,500 kids annually and employs 250 volunteers.
Parker has worked hard to keep costs down so that 95% of all donations to BackPack Beginnings go directly to the children in need. She has organized her staff on a rotating basis with 150 delivery volunteers, 15 people on the office staff and various other part time staff. Impressed? Just wait. None of the staff is paid. Not even Parker, who now works at least 40 hours/week, raising funds, organizing drives and administering a large organization. Did I mention she has now has two children?
BackPack Beginnings’ relationship with the K5K has been in existence since the inception of the organization. In 2010, Parker’s brother, who lived in Kirkwood, told her that the neighborhood was having a meeting to interview potential recipients of the K5K. Parker put some information together and showed up, not knowing what to expect. They picked her organization and the rest, as we say, is history.
BackPack Beginnings is again the recipient of the 2014 K5K’s fundraising efforts and Parker, because she is not busy enough, has taken a lead role in organizing the race.
K5K includes so many children and is one of the reasons why the race is so much fun. At the same time, K5K benefits so many children and is one of the reasons why it is so easy to get behind the cause that it supports.
I think we could all learn something from Parker. She felt an urge to help children, found the children who she could help and dove fearlessly in headfirst to create an organization that she could be proud of. Quite frankly, I was already impressed with Parker’s endeavors. After hearing the full story, I am not only impressed with her endeavors but also of her courage to venture into such an undertaking.
I know one thing...as someone who usually gets heartburn over race entry fees, I will click on that race entry registration with a smile and without a moment’s hesitation, knowing Parker is behind the wheel, leading such a special cause.